Masorti shul celebrates first year of ‘game-changer’ pay what you can scheme

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Masorti shul celebrates first year of ‘game-changer’ pay what you can scheme

St. Albans' Rabbi Adam-Zagoria-Moffet tells Jewish News 'we can do better as a community rather than people just being members for burial rites'

Screenshot: SAMS Instagram
Screenshot: SAMS Instagram

A synagogue in Hertfordshire is celebrating the successful first year of a radical new membership fee structure which it hopes will revolutionise its community.

With a membership of 500, including around 250 families, for the last seven years, St. Albans Masorti (SAMS) has been led by Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet.

Inspired by the Masorti community of Stoke Newington in Hackney, the shul launched a member-share concept in spring of 2023. Instead of a fixed fee, members pay what they feel they can afford.

Zagoria-Moffet explains that “we don’t do salary brackets. We try and be as transparent as possible. We have a number: simply the annual cost to run the shul, divided by the number of people in it that’s simplified to sustain contribution”.

Each spring, he adds, “we tell people that it’s around £75 per person per month. Last year was £85 but due to expansion and more numbers, the figure has gone down”.

The rabbi remains hopeful that members won’t decrease their contributions and says “the value of transparency supercedes everything else for us”.

Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet

He adds: “It’s going way better than we could have ever have expected. It was a cultural and financial risk to try something out of the box. I’m very glad that it has succeeded. We’ve had a transformation on how people think about the financial side of being part of a synagogue community, which is what we wanted”.

St. Albans Masorti shul member Warren Bright told Jewish News that the SAMS member share is “an excellent system that probably benefits the shul financially, in proportion to the “old shul” style of membership. We have certainly paid more than we would have done under the old system due to the fact we get to choose the amount that we are comfortable with and can afford”.

Bright believes there are benefits for those who are financially vulnerable but can still become members of SAMS, even if their contribution is small.

“I like to think that maybe by us contributing a bit more, we can subsidise a member or maybe family who may have let their membership lapse. Shul fees seem to be one of the biggest issues for a lot of people looking to become members, so this system works to alleviate those problems.

Pic: Screenshot SAMS Instagram

“In my opinion, no-one should ever have to think that they cannot become members of a shul because of fees. I look at this as an act of tzedakah and to be able to help a fellow member, albeit anonymously, is a wonderful thing”.

Rabbi Zagoria-Moffet says that whilst engagement is hard to measure, “the feedback we’ve had through the process, and we’ve made a considerable effort to collect that feedback, is that it changes the perception of their involvement in the community, especially new members, who are thinking of joining. It’s a community that you’re contributing to and everyone is, in their own way. It’s very empowering. It seems simple but it’s a transparent financial communication rather than email saying ‘this is what you owe’”.

He tells Jewish News that in launching the scheme, “the biggest thing that’s happened in terms of anxiety leading up to it, is simply that there isn’t much effect at all. It’s a risk but we’ve proved it’s worth it and other Masorti communities are thinking about it. It’s a proof of concept.

“We’re trying to subvert the idea that synagogue is a value-for-money calculation. Instead everyone is a stakeholder. It’s not a member ‘ship’, it’s a member ‘share’ and we can do better as a community rather than people just being members for burial rites”.

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